Would you drink a vegan wine?

You’re a carnivore. You like a good steak, bloody and rare. And you don’t see any need to shell out extra bucks for organic food. Is there any reason in the world why you would want to try a wine billed as “certified organic, biodynamic, and suitable for vegans”?

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I can give you a reason: You might want to try it if the wine is exceptionally good and a very good value. Consider this week’s featured wine, for example: Famille Hubert 2017 Château Pey-Bonhomme les-Tours Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, a wine certified organic, biodynamic, and vegan.

The wine cost $20, placing it on the lower edge of the pricey turf that is Bordeaux. And it proved to be one of the best low-end Bordeaux I’ve had in recent memory, a wine with the happy ability to taste more expensive than it is.

Chateau Pey-Bonhomme-les-Tours gets its name from the winery's 17th-century castellated tower,

Chateau Pey-Bonhomme-les-Tours gets its name from the winery’s 17th-century castellated tower,

This didn’t surprise me too much, and that takes me to the point of today’s essay: In my experience, many of the producers who choose the more difficult path of making organic wine seem to show a commitment to wine making quality that goes hand in hand with their commitment to treading lightly on the Earth with their agricultural practices.

Curiously, many of the practices that make a wine organic also make it vegan. You might not think that wine would be a problem for vegetarians or vegans, but historically wine makers used a range of animal products – egg whites, milk products, dried blood, or even dried fish bladders – as part of the process of “fining,” clarifying the wine in the barrel.

Adding these proteins helps clear the wine by attracting tiny particles that cause haze and gradually carrying them to the bottom of the barrel as sediment. In theory, when the clear wine is siphoned off, the gunk is left behind. But it’s hard to get around the yuk factor, or to assure wary vegans that no trace of animal products remains in the wine.

But there are ways around this, including the use of non-animal products like activated charcoal or bentonite clay to clear the wine; or even by simply allowing the wine to fall clear without intervention. Many producers actually boast that their wine is unfiltered and unfined; vegans can rest assured that such a wine is safe for their diet.

Randall Grahm, owner of Bonny Doon Vineyard, for instance, points out that his wines are organic and vegan, “not out of any particular ideological bent, apart from the fact that we prefer to make wines that are minimally manipulated.”

“Minimally manipulated” describes the approach at Chateau Pey-Bonhomme as well, and at most of the high-quality organic or biodynamic wines I’ve encountered. From vineyard practices like allowing winter grass to cover the vineyards, treating the soil with biodynamic herbal teas, and using native yeast to ferment the wine in flavor-neutral concrete tanks with no additives beyond limited amounts of sulfur, its wine makers pretty much let the wine make itself, and the results show in the bottle.

Does the wine have to be vegan? Do you have to be vegan to enjoy it? Of course not. But I’m happy to celebrate one of the best affordable Bordeaux I’ve enjoyed in quite a while. My tasting report is below.


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Today’s Tasting Report

Famille Hubert 2017 Château Pey-Bonhomme les-Tours Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux ($19.99)

Château Pey-Bonhomme les-Tours

This red wine from Blaye on Bordeaux’s Right Bank is declared biodynamic, certified organic, and using only indigenous yeasts with low sulfites, and, the label declares, “suitable for vegans.” It’s a blend typical of the region: Primarily Merlot (75%) with smaller portions of Cabernet Franc (15%) and Malbec (10%). It’s very dark purple in the glass, shading to a thin clear edge. Dark cherries, subtle mixed berries and a whiff of cherry liqueur elevate the aroma; tart red fruits fill the palate, framed by crisp acidity and soft but perceptibly astringent tannins with 13.6% alcohol. A hint of chalky minerality joins cherry-berry flavors in a long finish. U.S. importer: WineCraft, Cincinnati. (April 8, 2021)

FOOD MATCH: Beef and venison are the standard pairings for this robust Bordeaux, but the label calls it “suitable for vegans,” and those red meats certainly won’t do for those who avoid animal flesh. We built a vegan spaghetti sauce to match by adding lots of sauteed green peppers, onions, and garlic to an intense but fresh tomato sauce.

WHEN TO DRINK: The back label suggests drinking it within five years, but its structure, flavor, and balance make me think it could go on for a 10-year life span, assuming good cellar conditions.

Wine-Searcher.com’s $21 average U.S. retail is in sync with my $20 local price; it’s probably as good a Right Bank Bordeaux as you’re going to get in that price range.

You’ll find a thorough fact sheet about the wine on the producer’s English-language page.

Check prices and find vendors for Famille Hubert Château Pey-Bonhomme les-Tours Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux on Wine-Searcher.com.

Read more about Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux at this Wine-Searcher link. Page down to find listings and vendors for dozens of wines of the region.

Join this month’s Wine Focus conversation in our WineLovers Discussion Group: Merlot “Star or Co-star?”


More affordable wines

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10 or less that I’ve told you about during the past year or two. Please tell us about your favorites!

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